As a second year broadcast journalist student, and a 22 year old with a smartphone, I am frequently reminded that social media is a valuable tool. Instagram specifically has been transformed from a simple photo editing software, to a multi billion dollar platform – where users can turn their Instagram account into their brand, their identity and their source of business.
However, for the average person, Instagram is simply a workout for the thumbs and an making a mark on our perceptions of ourselves.
In this blog post, I’ll be discussing how the different social media platforms work and their users behave, how Instagram can be one of the worst, and finally how to actually combat all the negative impacts of Social Media to use it well.
For most people, Instagram is one of the few circles of apps that we will commute through every hour or so. My usual route is Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook – and if I am really bored Gmail. This can take either 5 minutes or 2 hours of my time, depending on just how brain dead I feel.
This seemingly harmless cycle of checking and scrolling through social media is so uncomprehendingly damaging. When you live your life through the mindless circling of these apps, you’re constantly exposing yourself to material which may be harmless on the surface, but gradually compounds to completely alter how you think.
I’ve chosen to isolate Instagram in particular for this blog post, not because I think it is the worst social media platform – more so because I think it is the most deceptively damaging, whether you are posting photos or viewing photos. Before I discuss Instagram, here’s my take on the other top three social media platforms.
Snapchat is very simple in its structure. Unless you’re someone who likes collecting Bitmojis, your snapchat account is only really relevant to people who you have added as a friend. The picture based instant messaging app allows you post stories like Instagram, however Snapchat stories are often much simpler, less constructed and honestly, a bit more boring than instagram. Snapchat is like the MSN of 2020. The simple way of overcoming Snapchat’s negative impacts is to just literally delete the people you aren’t friends with, and you will never see their content again.
Facebook and Twitter are in a league of their own. Whilst Facebook is usually full of middle aged mums and heavily right wing dads arguing in the comments of a picture of cats, the website has passed the days of multiple status updates and constant picture streams. Facebook is where I will go if I am either really bored, or want to read something from one of the various fitness groups I’ve joined.
Twitter is much more complex, much more political, and honestly – not worth the stress. I’ve had multiple twitter accounts, with several thousand followers – all of which I have eventually deactivated as I find the endless stream of commentary a bit overwhelming. A single tweet has the ability to shut down your career, create political upheaval – on a platform which is essentially users talking to themselves and hoping for a response; then being upset when the response doesn’t fit their exact views.
Instagram is ironically a catfish app. The concept of it seems very fluffy and light. Take pictures, put pretty filters on them and allow your close friends to view and interact with the images. Development in the app has allowed “normal” people to work with multi-national brands, live streaming and YouTube style IGTV posts are amongst the features which make Instagram sucessful.
The key point in this blog post is that your social media experience is dependent on who you chose to follow. Instagram shows you the posts of who you follow, and also thousands of posts from people you don’t follow – in the explore feed.
Instagram influencers who are in six figure brand partnerships will post photos that appear relatable, but are subtly advertising a product. Normally unobtainable and luxury lifestyles are promoted as the norm, and heavy image manipulation, photoshop and filtering is a massive part of the app.
Whilst minor celebrities face backlash over product placement and advertising of unsafe products like Skinny Teas and plastic surgery, the average person will simply post their own personal pictures and share with their friends and followers. The average person is, however, still exposed to the false and misleading posts on Instagram.
In the last year, I’ve tried to use my Instagram in a positive way, posting content which I hope will make someone feel better – not worse about their situation. However I am the average person, and with just shy of 600 followers – my influence is negligible. Most of my friends and followers don’t post on Instagram half as frequently as me, yet I often receive a lot of support for my posts, relative to my follower count.
And that’s the point. Despite most people rarely posting on Instagram – they’re always active. Accounts that haven’t posted in over 3 years are loyal likers of my posts. Friends who post twice a year often tell me of how stressed they are about potentially posting a selfie they took last week, or how they wish they could dress like X from Instagram. If you hadn’t sent a text in over 2 years, you wouldn’t check your text inbox 30 times a day.
Instagram is so addictive, the endless feed of pretty images and ability to have a floodgate view into people’s lives and history is addictive. It’s easy to spend hours scrolling through without realizing what time of day it is, how we mentally or physically feel – or what we are actually looking at.
1 week ago I deleted the app from my phone and chose to take time away from it. At first I felt like I had so much extra time, or that I was missing out on something important. Today I logged in for the first time and realised I had missed absolutely nothing. This is me realising how wasteful Instagram can be. I think checking in once or twice in a week is probably fine, but the endless daily scrolling is ridiculous.
Instagram is often triumphed as a great place to develop your career – especially in the creative industry, and that is true. Through creating meaningful content and collaborating with other people in that industry, Instagram is a good tool for development. But sitting and scrolling through it for hours will never be a good way of moving forward in your career plans, and I think that’s important to remember.
I don’t think Instagram is a bad application. I think it’s over-saturated and addictive. Taking a week or so without using it really highlights just how much of your everyday life it impacts; how you think, how you view certain experiences and how you measure your own success.